Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Neani’s World of WarCraft posts have persuaded me that it is time for another game post. Aya Silkrose reached 60 the other day, which is a funny place to be in. On the one hand, my beloved Aya is now a legendary hero. She will (subject to respeccing) never again pay for training costs. She can (subject to a sufficient number of devilsaurs making the supreme sacrifice) ride a swift frostsaber. There is (subject to class limitations) no armor she cannot wear; no weapon she cannot wield. When she passes, the vast majority of Azeroth’s population simply hopes that she doesn’t feel like using them for mace practice.

On the other hand, as I have just discovered, Aya is at the very bottom of the legendary hero totem pole. She is Lynceus in in a world full of Achilleses and Heracleses. She doesn’t have her wildheart set; she has barely reached the rank of private. Most of her gear is blue—but not all. She may be able to ride a swift frostsaber, but she actually rides a striped frostsaber. Having exempted herself by supreme effort from the onerous burden of improving herself through training costs, she has consigned herself to the onerous burden of improving herself questing for ever more fantastic equipment.

Did I say questing? I meant grinding. Once a character has reached 60, the only real way to increase in power (which, for some reason, is the singular obsession of all Azerothians not obsessed with standing in one place or endlessly pacing their path of choice) is through acquiring ever more powerful armor or weapons. Now, I have no problem with that. I derive an absurd amount of pleasure from increasing my chance to get a critical hit by 1%. What I wanted to talk about is the aesthetics of this mechanic.

Now, I don't mind power level being tied to gear, especially since most of the gear (even though it has quantifiable stats) is not obviously magical. That's good. Fantasy is rife with the concept of the magical weapon, and I don’t mean magical in the sense of weapons that have some clear magical effect, such as Mjollnir. What fantasy is really rife with are weapons and armor that make the hero better in some mysterious sense: Achilles’ armor, Odysseus’ bow, Excalibur. Aesthetically speaking, the gear in World of WarCraft is excellent.

The way you get that gear is, sadly, highly stupid. The only realistic way to get better gear once you have hit level 60 is to run instance after instance or play battleground after battleground. Now it's sort of okay with me to fight for Warsong Gulch or Alterac Valley over and over again. Those are places that are supposed to be highly contested. But instances are another story. Honestly, how many times can we kill Baron Rivendare before the suspension of disbelief (already in a highly suspended state to begin with) breaks down? Moreover, instances are supposed to be fantastical, key places in Azeroth's war-torn history. Running them over and over again hoping that Baron Rivendare drops a wildheart kilt cheapens them.

What I really want in exchange, I suppose, is fewer high-end drops and more high-end quest rewards. I don't care so much care if the quests are hard, or if you have to run many of them in raids. I wouldn't even care if there were a whole host of raid quests in, say, Stratholme, and if people just happened to kill Baron Rivendare fifty million times while doing them. What I object to is the aesthetics of a game design that effectively makes killing Baron Rivendare fifty million times your objective.

Which isn't to say that I'm not going to kill him until he drops my wildheart kilt. Stupid death knights. What does he want with a druid skirt anyway?

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